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Case study: Feeding food packaging

JLS Automation, United States of America

With a combination of tenacious experience and engineering, JLS Automation is out to change the food packaging industry, one robot at a time.

Over the last decade, JLS Automation, based in Pennsylvania, USA, has become one of the go-to companies for helping primary food packaging customers switch to robotic automation. Established in 1955, JLS was the brainchild of Joseph L. Souser, father of current President and CEO Craig Souser. Since then, the company has developed a dynamic background and gone through several changes. Ultimately, the company decided it needed to choose a market that showed solid growth potential. 
“We’re very bullish on where the food industry is today and where it could go,” says Craig Souser. 
“When we made the switch we felt the food industry was very stable, and that has proven to be true.       
     Food, in general, has not had a significant amount of automation to this point but modern packaging equipment is so fast that people can’t keep up with it. Robots are able to allow the next level of technology to be implemented.”
     Starting about 15 years ago, JLS began building its own gantry robotic systems, but as prices for industrial robots were coming down and new technologies emerged on the market, JLS saw an opportunity they couldn’t pass up: signing on to integrate ABB’s FlexPicker “delta-style” high speed robotic pickers. 
     "Robotics didn’t exist in 1955 when we started, but when the FlexPicker came along in the early 2000s we got on board very quickly—and we’ve been a FlexPicker house ever since,” says Souser. “Originally we saw primary packaging as the only segment that the FlexPicker was going to work in. However, today we’re doing a lot of work in the secondary packaging segment and have developed some solutions for that market. As technologies have changed and our experience has grown we’ve been able to use robots for applications that we never imagined early on.”


JLS Automation

JLS Automation, based in Pennsylvania, USA, is focused on primary and secondary packaging systems. The company has transitioned from a sales channel for other motion control products to being a provider of solutions for selected markets. 
      Designing robotic automation solutions for the modern food packaging industry can be very tricky. Consumer demands are changing all the time, and packagers have to be able to modify their product strategies very quickly –sometimes on a minute-by-minute basis.
“Primary products are very challenging to work with,” says Souser.
“These types of products change state quickly, so it’s important for us to understand the dynamics and listen to the customer. We had to not only develop good tooling, which is fundamental, but also work on the flow of products. We often talk about FlexPickers being like airplanes: if they’re not moving they’re not creating any value, so we need to keep the robots productive and cycling at very high speeds.”
      Another major issue unique to the food industry is sanitation and ensuring the highest levels of cleanliness on the production and packaging lines. When JLS’s equipment is coupled with ABB’s FlexPicker robots, those exacting sanitation standards can be easily met.
“Over time we’ve had to become very skilled in high sanitary design,” says Souser.
“Virtually everything we do is stainless and almost everything we do is capable of being in a wash down environment. We have different levels of sanitary design, but they’re all fundamentally meant to get wet, and usually do.”
      ABB was the first company to commercialize the delta-style high speed picking robot, and is still the dominant player in this regard. It is this long history and experience with the FlexPicker robots that JLS values.
“We’re very proud of the relationship we have with ABB,” says Souser.
“What we’ve found is that despite the fact that they’re a huge global company, they do listen to their customers.”
Sanitation and the highest levels of cleanliness are vital in the food industry. JLS equipment coupled with ABB’s FlexPicker robots easily meet the need for high standards.

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